Breaking Down the Defensive Line
Aug. 23, 2017
One of the keys for the Gamecocks’ success this season will be unlocked by the performance of the defensive line. Admittedly thin along the front, defensive line coach Lance Thompson will be challenged to coach up a group of young players to get them ready for the week-to-week grind of a physical SEC schedule. The Carolina coaches know it will be critical to get more consistent disruptive play from the first line of defense than the Gamecocks have shown over the last couple of seasons if they are to reach their team goals this season.
It is paramount that the only three upperclassmen scholarship players along the defensive front, Ulric Jones, Dante Sawyer and Taylor Stallworth, put together their finest seasons in the Garnet & Black. They will be counted on heavily, not only for making plays on a consistent basis, but for their leadership, as they will be asked to mentor a group of young players who will be counted on to make an immediate contribution.
Jones, a 6-5, 312-pounder from Oxford, Ala., bounced around on both sides of the ball upon his arrival in Columbia in 2015, but found a home in the middle of the defensive line last season, making eight starts. One of the strongest players on the squad, Jones will be a key figure in shoring up the middle of the line.
Sawyer, a 6-3, 275-pounder from Suwanee, Ga., is versatile enough to work both in the interior as well as coming off the edge. He was a projected starter at defensive end entering the fall, but can move inside to use his quickness and athleticism to gain an advantage in passing situations and pressure the quarterback.
Stallworth, a 6-2, 305-pounder from Mobile, Ala., has the ability to be an All-SEC performer in his final campaign. A starter in all 13 games a season ago and with 18 career starts, he provides that calming influence for the younger players when the stadium lights go on.
A pair of sophomores in Kobe Smith and Keir Thomas got their feet wet a year ago as true freshmen, and will be asked to contribute more this season. Smith, a 6-2, 286-pounder from Lawrenceville, Ga., is a run-stopper in the middle of the line. Thomas, a 6-2, 262-pounder from Miami, Fla., is listed as a defensive end, but was asked to play inside some last season despite being a bit undersized for the role.
Redshirt sophomore Shameik Blackshear is a guy Gamecock fans are anxious to see in game action. A highly-touted player coming out of Bluffton, S.C., the 6-4, 260-pounder has been slowed by physical ailments throughout his first two seasons in the Garnet & Black. He could provide a boost to the defense if he is able to provide a consistent presence from his defensive end position.
Sophomore Javon Kinlaw is being counted on to make an immediate impact in the middle of the line. The biggest of the Gamecock defenders, Kinlaw, who entered fall camp listed at 6-6, 326, is making the transition from one year of junior college ball to big time college football. While still raw, he gives the Carolina defense more girth in the middle, which will be especially important against teams that play a more traditional style of offense and like to run it between the tackles.
A pair of redshirt freshmen in Griffin Gentry and Aaron Thompson, and two true freshmen in Aaron Sterling and M.J. Webb, are the other scholarship players on the defensive line and add depth to the unit. Junior walk-on Javion Duncan rounds out of the defensive line corps. The opportunity certainly presents itself in fall camp for any of those players to become a regular part of the rotation.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (12):
Ulric Jones Sr.
Dante Sawyer Sr.
Javion Duncan Jr.
Javon Kinlaw So.
Kobe Smith So.
Keir Thomas So.
Griffin Gentry R-Fr.
Aaron Thompson R-Fr.
Aaron Sterling Fr.
M.J. Webb Fr.